The Modern Firm: Organizational Design for Performance and Growth


pmwj21-apr2014-Youker-IMAGE1 BOOKBook Title:   The Modern Firm: Organizational Design for Performance and Growth
Book Author: John D. Roberts
Book Publisher:  Oxford University Press, USA
Publication Date (Year): 2004, 2007 (paper)
ISBN13:  9780198293767             336 pages
List Price:      US$ 45.00 (Hardcover) US$29.95 (Paper)
Reviewed by:  Robert Youker

One of the key problems in writing a business book with case examples is that after publication the “good” business example may have gone downhill.  This happened with the famous book, “In Search of Excellence” and also happened with the case of BP (British Petroleum) in this excellent book whose sub-title is “organizational design for performance and growth”. Never the less there are many other examples and case studies. This slim volume published by Oxford University Press was selected as business book of the year 2004 by the Economist magazine. “The Modern Firm” written by John Roberts, an economics professor at Stanford Business School, lays out in wonderfully lucid and jargon-free language a framework for thinking about corporate structure, given that any organization is multifaceted, and the range of organizational variables is mind-boggling.

With an economist’s discipline, the author introduces the reader as gently as possible to some demanding and stimulating ideas, ones that have already been tested by the likes of BP.

Nobody, it can now be said, is fully fit to run a modern firm until they have read “The Modern Firm.””    (The Economist December 18, 2004)

When I read this book I came to agree with the Economist that it would become a classic. Roberts has provided the basic economic theories that tie together organizational design, competitive strategy and the business environment. He has presented the theories that lie behind the accelerating movement toward project and program management and the use of teams and networks. The theories of complementary, tight and loose coupling, non-convexity and non-concavity, exploiting vs. exploring, motivation, and the disaggregated model explain how corporate strategy should be designed for high performance. Strategy is a creative act that requires both analytical managerial problem-solving and articulating a vision, but also the communication and persuasion that are the essential features of leadership. Strategic and organizational choices must be made holistically, recognizing the interdependencies.

To improve performance and growth and adapting to major changes in their environment companies are:


To read entire Book Review (click here)

About the Reviewer

robert-youker-bioflag-usaRobert Youker

World Bank (retired)

Robert Youker is an independent trainer and consultant in Project Management with more than forty years of experience in the field.  He is retired from the World Bank where he developed and presented six week project management training courses for the managers of major projects in many different countries. He served as the technical author for the bank on the Instructors Resource Kit on CD ROM for a five week training course on Managing the Implementation of Development Projects.  He has written and presented more than a dozen papers at the Project Management Institute and the International Project Management Association (Europe) conferences many of which have been reprinted in the Project Management Institute publications and the International Journal of Project Management (UK).  Mr. Youker is a graduate of Colgate University, the Harvard Business School and studied for a doctorate in behavioral science at George Washington University.  His project management experience includes new product development at Xerox Corporation and project management consulting for many companies as President of Planalog Management Systems from 1968 to 1975.  He has taught in Project Management Courses for AMA, AMR, AED, ILI, ILO, UCLA, University of Wisconsin, George Washington University, the Asian Development Bank and many other organizations. He developed and presented the first Project Management courses in Pakistan, Turkey, China and Africa for the World Bank. A few years ago Mr. Youker conducted Project Management training in Amman, Jordan financed by the European Union for 75 high level civil servants from Iraq who implemented the first four World Bank projects in Iraq. He is a former Director of PMI, IPMA and asapm, the USA member organization of IPMA. Most recently he has been consulting for the US Government Millennium Challenge Corporation on project management training in Africa.  Bob can be contacted at [email protected]

To see other works by Bob Youker, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/robert-bob-youker/